Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

In the past week a storm raged through Flickr, in the past weeks and months we’ve seen a couple more already.
I’d think that Flickr would not have many feet left to shoot themselves in. Apparantly Yahoo’s lawyers (whom I guess are the initiatiors of these cock-ups) however are good at finding more feet for Flickr to keep shooting.

First let me mention a couple of ‘minor’ issues that we saw recently.
The smallest one was making it mandatory to have a Yahoo-ID to use Flickr. This upset the community because they don’t see themselves as a Yahoo customer but a Flickr customer. Confusing your customers with mixing your different brands is not a good idea.

Being Cut Off if You Stand Out
Last month there was the removal of a photo and comments of Rebekka Godleifsdottir without warning. Presumably because some people in the comments uttered threats to a UK company that had been violating Godleifsdottirs copyright. Also apparantly this got to the attention of Flickr staff because of the high number of page views and comments the photo attracted. They in the end admitted their mistake and apologized.
Recently Flickr changed the way content is categorized and filtered.

From now on Flickr users should actively moderate their own content. Which in itself is not too much to ask. But the thing is they ask me to mark photo’s that might be insulting or unprudent to a ‘global’ audience as moderate or even restricted. This can be interpreted as a call to moderate everything according to the smallest common denominator. My pictures that show women e.g. talking to males that are not their relatives in public will certainly feel offensive to some people. But of course that is unenforceable, as Flickr staff well know.
I received a cheery message my account was considered ‘safe’, as if that should make my day. But what was irritating that suddenly I saw greyed out pictures when visiting friends’ photo streams.

Switching off the ‘Safety Filter’ that Flickr provides me with as a great new functionality, which they default to Safe (which means their default is to not let you decide to see less information, but let you decide to see more information. A plain weird standpoint in the age of information abundance/overflow), showed that the filtered out stuff consisted of screenshots and graphics. The kind of thing they filtered out of public search before, because Flickr is a photo-site.

Other users however saw their entire account being flagged ‘Restricted’. Without notice, and with very slow response as to why it happened, and how to change it. In the linked case, the trigger again seems to be a response to a) complaints, but apparantly without checking the validity b) a high number of views and comments (as if that alone indicates something dodgy. Seems like projection on the side of the Flickr Staff to me: only naughty stuff attracts eyeballs). That is a repeating pattern so it seems.

Again Flickr admitted their mistake, and apologized, but again it took decisive action on behalf of the customer.
So we have as a pattern:
If you attract attention, you’ll be flagged as suspect.
If we change something, we won’t tell you first, but wait until you complain.
We are slow to respond.

Dumping PayPal and Other Payment Woes
Yahoo is promoting their own payment system (Yahoo Wallet) which supports creditcards only (at least outside the US). A lot of European users do not own a credit card, because you can do almost anything with your debitcard across the entire continent, and yearly fees for credit cards are often high. That is why PayPal is popular, as you can connect it to your bank account.
But they’ve cut PayPal as a payment option. Again without warning. Leaving scores of users without credit card with no way to continue their Pro account by paying through PayPal. And without time to arrange a different solution, because there was no warning the service would be cut.

Also those that use the Portuguese language version of Flickr, suddenly find themselves left with using a Brazilian e-banking option only to pay. Which of course is entirely logical if you live in Portugal, isn’t it?
Confusing languages with countries is a major no-no guys. Useability 101.

Offering Localized Versions with Easter Egg
The really big issue this week is the start of localized versions. While the official blog was extolling the parties around the launch, and how the Flickr team was jetting around the world, the users in Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea found a little easter egg in those localized versions: they cannot decide their own Safety Filter settings. It is on Safe always, if you have a Yahoo ID based in those countries.

Of course this means that those Swiss and Austrian users that created a German Yahoo ID because they wanted to enjoy a German speaking site, now also see their filters in Flickr being locked in Safe mode. Confusing languages with nations again. This means ‘flowers and landscapes only’ for the German speaking users. Even for your own photo’s. Meanwhile Yahoo’s stockholders rejected a principled stand on censorship.
Again, this change was effected without warning. Again response has been extremely slow when users started to complain. German users demand to know what the legal basis is for this decision, but only get vague indications (e.g. age verification is mentioned) that don’t make much sense at all (except that they seem to be taken pro-actively out of fear, real or imagined). An action accusing Flickr of widespread censorship ensued.

Until now Flickr staff only let their customers know how painfull it is to them, and how sorry they feel, but no tangible information as to reasons why is forthcoming.

(censorship has been a hot tag in the past week on Flickr)

It all boils down to this, from my viewpoint:

  • Flickr is currently treating their customers as objects, whereas the customers see themselves and Flickr staff as a community.
  • Flickr is taking measures without informing their customers, or giving them a chance to prepare for those changes.
  • Flickr is stonewalling requests for information.

Meanwhile customers are considering their options, putting uploading on hold, and moving away to other services (such as the Danish 23 and Zoomr)
Flickr, in short, is flushing their brand down the drain. Or rather Yahoo is, as Flickr staff seem to feel predominantly sorry for themselves at this point.

(a good overview, if you read German, of what is going on in the German blogosphere can be found at Sprechblase, by Cem Basman from Hamburg)